Saturday, May 06, 2006

Bob Burns: He Was Here, There, and Everywhere

Mr. Bob Burns was one of the more visible characters here in South Philly, and he was everywhere. No, not at one time, but he got around. Bob was a local fixture who was a homeless man. He had a penchant for quart bottles of beer before 40s became the size of choice for those who may find beer to be the sole reason to exist in life. You could find Bob and his quart sitting in the doorway of just about any business around, whether it be on Oregon Ave, Shunk St., West Passyunk Ave., Broad Street, Snyder Ave., wherever. His constant travelling companion was a guy we called Drunken Joe who lived on the 2600 block of Bancroft before his passing. Bob and Joe would just sit for hours drinking their beer and discussing the critical issues of the day. Well, the issues were were critical to them anyhow. Who knows, they may have actually discussed world hunger or how to bring an end to the Vietnam War. Or maybe which beer was better, Bud or Miller.

When I started this blog, I had mentioned to my cousin that I was writing about the characters we knew and loved from our youth. The first name out of his mouth was Bob Burns, and he told me a hilarious story I had not heard before.

It turns out there was one local West Passyunk Avenue auto parts merchant who liked to "help" Bob whenever possible. That "help" meant Bob was always going to be on the wrong end of a practical joke. One night, the business owner offered Mr. Burns the use of his store to get a good, safe, night's sleep and get cleaned up. When he returned in the morning, the businessman gave Bob a shave to tidy him up. Much to Bob's dismay, he dropped the razor (yes, purposefully) down the heating duct halfway through the shave. Of course, he didn't have a replacement. So Bob walked around South Philly for a few days with one side of his face having thicker stubble than the other, one side totally smooth for a day or so. Sadly, no photo is known to exist of Bob after that semi-shave. This wasn't the first or last joke played at Bob's expense, but whether because he was desperate or because he lacked common sense, he kept coming back, for a while anyhow. During one of Bob's sleep-overs, he decided to defecate in the store, rather than use the toilet. Some may say that he ruined a good thing, losing shelter. I'd say he got his revenge. I wouldn't want to be working the counter that day, or be the lowly employee who had to clean up the mess.

Bob Burns and Drunken Joe are long gone. They both exited somewhere mid-way through the 70s. The most reasonable facsimile in recent years here was a guy who would panhandle cars at Broad & Wolf while they waited for the light, asking for money to buy a hot dog. If he bought dogs with what he took in, his cholesterol level would probably be alarming. His nourishment usually came in the form of that gold liquid found in 40s. I saw that guy in the Philadelphia Daily News, they caught him on film scouraging beer from half-empty bottles in the old Veterans Stadium parking lot after an Eagles game.

No comments: